Reno Air Races champion,Dedicated warbird pilot: that describes Steve Hinton and Steve Hinton Jr. It so happens that the son has many of the same interests as his dad. He grew up watching his dad win the Reno Unlimited Gold class six times—the fastest, baddest class there is. His father’s world speed record poster was in his room, and the younger Hinton looked at it every night before going to sleep.
Today Steve the younger, as he referred to himself as preparation of this article began, has achieved many of his dreams. He is a freelance mechanic on warbirds such as the North American P–51, and he is a three-time winner of the Reno Air Races Gold Unlimited Class. He was also in the lead of the 2011 race when another airplane crashed next to the crowd, and the race was stopped.
There’s one big goal left on the 25-year-old’s list of things to do before settling down—that world speed record. “The three-kilometer speed record has been held by Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, Howard Hughes, Fritz Wendel [the German Luftwaffe pilot’s record stood from 1939 to 1969], Darryl Greenamyer, and my father; Lyle Shelton currently holds it. Those are big names in aviation history,” Hinton said.
Today the Hinton of no fixed address lives as a self-described gypsy, operating from his Toyota truck and working as a mechanic for a private warbird owner in Texas; for his dad in Chino, California; and living with his crew chief in Bakersfield, California, when preparing the modified P–51 Strega owned by Bill “Tiger” Destefani to race at Reno.
The younger Hinton’s goal is to make enough money during the year to survive without pay at race time—he and his three crewmembers are volunteers. Should he find enough sponsors to support a world record attempt, the preparation will be the same, but there will be money only for the world record attempt.
The maximum effort to beat the world record of 528 miles an hour will test the bearings and piston rings of the 3,600-horsepower Rolls-Royce Merlin engine in only 12 to 15 hours—the same as if it were a Reno race. Afterward, a 1,000-hour overhaul, costing $150,000, will be needed.
Hinton would prefer to race another 25 years at Reno if the sponsorship was there, but he knows that’s not realistic. His settle-down job, he hopes, will be to one day work with his dad at Chino in the Fighter Rebuilders restoration company and, right next door, the Planes of Fame Air Museum.
“I have no reason to doubt that he won’t carry it on and take it to the next level at some stage, but there are only certain times to do certain things in your life and right now, he is following his dream,” his dad (Steve the elder) said.
Hinton the elder, last written about in AOPA Pilot in 2006 (see “Saving Aircraft Inc.: A Movie Stunt Pilot Follows a Boyhood Dream,” April 2006) is busier than ever. His daughter, Amanda—Steve Jr.’s twin—is also following her dream, completing a master’s degree in biology on her way to a medical career.
When interviewed recently, the elder Hinton had just returned from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona to rehearse formation flights for the U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight, which pairs state-of-the-art fighters with vintage fighter aircraft. These unique formation flights usually take place at airshows, although federal budget sequestration has pulled current military aircraft from the program—at least for the 2013 season.
Also affected were some of the performances by the team the senior Hinton leads, “The Bremont Horsemen Aerobatic Team.” In 2012 he led two P–51 Mustangs while flying a Lockheed P–38 Lightning, but the team also uses North American F–86 Sabre jets, Grumman F8F Bearcats, and Vought F4U Corsairs.
His Planes of Fame Air Museum continues monthly flying demonstrations of restored warbirds at Chino, and has a branch at Valle, Arizona, with 40 aircraft—many of them still flying. “We put on our Living History event the first Saturday of every month. We’ll showcase an airplane. The last time one of our guys took up a P–47 aircraft,” Hinton said.
You’ll see more of his movie work this year. “The last job I did for a movie was The Girl from Nagasaki. It is a Japanese production and has a T–33 in it,” Hinton said. While Hinton Jr. does not do movie work, he does star in the Reno-based 3D documentary Air Racers seen at museums.
For several years the senior Hinton has flown the pace airplane for the Reno races, including those his son has won. The father-son act appeared at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in October. “We’re really not saying no too many times to too many things. You’ve gotta do it while you can,” he said.
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